I have tried to have this conversation a few times in China. The problem is when trying to explain the difference between beer, wine and spirits.

People assume that spirits means something similar to 白酒. However many Western style spirits don't have the same alcohol proof as most 白酒 (to my knowledge).

I don't particularly want to discuss the alcohol proof, I am hoping there is already a collective word for Western style spirits (gin, whisky, brandy) without going into the routine of explaining that we have a range of liquors which aren't as strong as 白酒.

The point gets lost in translation if I can't get my meaning across quick enough. So is there a term for "Spirits" other than the Chinese 白酒?

  • Maybe 烈酒? This is closest word occurring to me at present.
    – halfelf
    Nov 15, 2012 at 10:58
  • 1
    烈酒 is distilled alcohol, aka strong booze. And could be inferred to mean stuff like 高梁酒. 洋酒 might convey the meaning of Western stuff, regardless of the alcohol content.
    – dda
    Nov 15, 2012 at 11:18
  • I know you said you didn't wan't to discuss it... but most western spirits do have an ABV in the same sort of range as 白酒 (40-60%).
    – Cocowalla
    Nov 15, 2012 at 13:14
  • Vodka, rum, and whiskey usually are about 40% (80 proof). Fancy schmancy liqueurs are usually lower in proof. There are a handful of high-proof western liquors that I can think of off the top of my head (Everclear, Bacardi 150). Nov 15, 2012 at 21:20
  • @Cocowalla - (And everyone else) I said "to my knowledge" because I don't regularly drink spirits so I am happy to admit being wrong. I get asked many times when I'm in China about different kinds of alcohol in Western countries and this is one main piece of vocab. I'm looking to describe "spirits" that aren't 白酒. Thanks all for some good answers and comments!
    – going
    Nov 15, 2012 at 21:30

1 Answer 1


烈酒 means hard liquor. 洋酒 means western liquor. Conceivably it could include wine and such, but it usually refers to western hard liquor (e.g., whiskey, vodka, rum).

Here's an example sentence for your benefit:

The city of Guangzhou consumes nearly 40% of the foreign hard liquor sold in China.


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